Green Offices

Green Offices

September 20, 2011
Green Office Program cultivates a culture of sustainability among UR staff

Over the summer, a handful of University of Richmond administrative offices signed on to pilot a new sustainability program intended to reduce the environmental impact of the workplace. Word spread about the Green Office Program as members of the pilot offices included its name in their email signatures, prompting inquiries from other offices.

“People were asking what it was; they were excited about doing it themselves,” says David Curtis, assistant director of financial aid. “There is a level of interest within our community about becoming more sustainable in the workplace. [This program] meets that need of individual staff members who want to work in a place that takes care of the environment in which we live.” 

Curtis, as a member of the University Staff Advisory Council (USAC), led the subcommittee that developed the Green Office Program after hearing the need for a sustainable workplace in a September 2010 staff forum. Partnering with Sustainability Coordinator Megan Litke, they quickly realized that “there really was no vehicle for staff to be fully engaged in sustainability efforts,” says Curtis. “We started thinking about creating something where offices could begin to change their business practices to really become more green.”

From a spreadsheet full of ideas submitted by different offices they put together a program that encourages office teams to work their way through three levels of achievement — bronze, silver and gold — by committing to reduce waste, save electricity and use green purchasing practices, among other themes. Two-thirds of an office’s members must sign each checklist to receive recognition at any level.

The bronze checklist, which Curtis describes as “the low-hanging fruit,” includes turning off common area office lights at night and using double-sided printing and copying; silver requires seven more challenging actions, including educating new employees about sustainability at Richmond, providing an office compost bin, and eliminating use of disposable dishes at meetings; while the gold checklist requires offices to more aggressively reduce waste by, among other actions, eliminating daily use of bottled water and water coolers and setting thermostats to energy-saving temperatures.

When Curtis introduced the program to the Office of Financial Aid, he was met with overwhelming support. To date, his office has achieved the bronze-level checklist, which he says was a very easy process since they were already doing most of the actions listed. “There really wasn’t a lot we had to change, but it has helped us to start thinking differently about how we do things,” he says. “We realize that this is going to be kinder to the environment, and it may actually help us save money that we can move around to different areas of the office.”

In the Recreation and Wellness Department, participation in the Green Office Program is part of a broader departmental commitment to sustainability, which comes with additional challenges in a physical space such as a workout facility.

“It takes work, and there are sacrifices and inconveniences that we confront every day to be green,” says Tom Roberts, assistant vice president for recreation and wellness. “If that’s what it takes, that’s what we are going to do.”